A former student asked me to write a letter for a friend who was being threatened with deportation (!!) while doing a degree program in music. This person wants to be a voice teacher, and apparently TIIC don’t understand why that career choice requires any kind of formal training. (Slowly I turn…
) So I wrote this today:
To whom it may concern:
I was asked to write this letter to explain why teaching voice is something that would require a Bachelor’s Degree in Music. I cannot imagine how anyone would think it would not require extensive training at the collegiate level and beyond. Teaching voice is not just sitting at the piano and playing happy little ditties or simple scales. It involves an understanding of many facets of music and other disciplines. I would like to outline these requirements as I see them, as a graduate of the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, as a private and college voice teacher/sole proprietor with nearly 20 years’ experience, and as a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS).
• The voice teacher needs to understand the physiology of the voice – the laryngeal muscles, the muscles of breath management, and the musculoskeletal structure that allows a singer to develop his/her instrument to full effect. This study is offered in vocal pedagogy courses in both undergraduate and graduate programs.
• The voice teacher needs to understand music theory in order to convey to the student that the vocal line is only a part of the whole fabric of the piece. Knowing theory allows the teacher to show the student how each note, each phrase, each line fits into the entire piece. This study is offered in every year of the bachelor’s program.
• The voice teacher needs to understand history – both music history and world history – in order to teach the student how to interpret a piece of music in a way that is historically informed and appropriate. The style of a piece from the 17th century is radically different from that of the 19th century. And many times, styles recur in later periods (i.e., everything old is new again). A good teacher will be able to point this out to a student and help guide that student to an understanding that is deeper than just singing a song for the song’s sake. Again, music history is offered throughout a 4-year undergraduate program, as well as the gen ed courses in history available in most colleges.
• And finally, the voice teacher cannot exist in a vacuum. Music programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels allow (and usually require) people to work together in various ensembles, on stage, in concert, in chamber works, and in large choral groups. These experiences are invaluable in teaching the voice teacher about teamwork, in providing networking opportunities that go well beyond their college years, and giving them a foundation to draw upon when working with students.
Based on my experience, all of these skills require, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in music. Should you have any further questions, please feel free to email me at email@example.com or call the number below.
Christine Thomas-O’Meally, M.M.